Thayer Munford Jr. sat in his locker Thursday morning answering questions regarding this Monday's game against the Detroit Lions when Aidan Hutchinson came up.
The Raiders offensive lineman looked up with a slight grin when he heard the edge rusher's name, like a batter's eyes opening up at a fastball barreling down the middle of the plate.
While there's a common respect between Munford and Hutchinson, there's no love lost when they line up against each other on a field. The two have had their share of encounters before arriving to the NFL, with Ohio State and Michigan considered one of the fiercest rivalries in college football history.
The last time the two met was in November of 2021. Hutchinson and No. 5 ranked Michigan notoriously had the upper hand on Munford's No. 2 ranked Buckeyes squad. Hutchinson had three sacks in the 42-27 win, propelling Michigan to the CFB Playoffs.
Hutchinson was the No. 2 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Munford was selected 236 picks later. Yet, they both find themselves making a major impact for their team, and now have the opportunity to line up against each once again.
"Our last year at Michigan and Ohio State, it was a real one," Munford reflected. "He came out on top for his last game, I didn't. At the same time, I know how he plays and he knows how I play, too. I feel it's a good rivalry. He's a good player. ... We're all good players. At the same time, it's all love at the end of the day."
The Raiders right tackle is coming into his own in his second year in the league. He started four games his rookie season, trying to navigate the pressures and intricacies of the NFL. He spent the majority of the season filling in amid injuries and playing tight end in jumbo packages. He's taken on a larger role in 2023, starting the last two games at right tackle and playing more than 50 percent of offensive snaps in the last three contests.
Additionally his Pro Football Focus offensive grade has skyrocketed 12 points from his rookie season, with his 74 run blocking grade being the highest among the team at the moment.
"He's a really bright young man," Head Coach Josh McDaniels said of Munford. "Tough, durable, has learned multiple roles because we've played him at tight end some, and at tackle obviously, and does whatever he's asked. Studies, knows his assignments, working on his technique like all younger guys are.
"But there's an element of youthful exuberance, energy with Thayer that you really enjoy being around. You can feel it on the field too, he does that during the course of the game."
Offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi also described Munford as a joy to coach, labeling the tackle as someone who adds "good juice" to the locker room.
"Every player that I would say makes their way into the Sunday lineup or Sunday rotation, is consistent in practice. And Thayer did a good job of that in the spring and then training camp of playing at a consistent base both in pass protection and in the run game," Lombardi said Tuesday.
"He's earned that play time. ... You want to affect others in a positive mindset, that's what a leader does. You can affect the unit in a positive way and get them to play better. I think Thayer does a good job of that, of kind of just getting the offensive line going and bringing good juice and good energy."
The Ohio State product believes bringing a positive attitude to the team is vital and takes pride in it. He acknowledged the success he's had so far this season derives from bringing energy on every down and living in the moment on every play.
"If you have a negative attitude towards everything, especially with our offensive drives, you're not going to do well at all," Munford said. "You can't just have one good drive where you have a lot of energy and the next drive you don't energy at all. That's the key thing for our team is we got to bring the energy. Every time I come in, on and off the field, I'm trying to bring as much energy as possible."
The Raiders get a practice in at Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center before heading to Michigan for their Week 8 matchup against the Detroit Lions.